Almost nobody saw this coming. The New York Times' Nate Cohn calls it a "black swan" event. Data guru Nate Silver, who famously predicted the outcome in all 50 states in the 2012 presidential race, had to write an essay admitting that he and his fellow prediction experts "basically got the Republican race wrong."
Trump more or less clinched the Republican nomination this week when his remaining two rivals dropped out of the race following his win in the Indiana primary. But as early as August 2015, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame was already calling the race for Trump on his popular blog. And he wasn't calling the Republican primary, but the presidential race. After he spoke to Reason TV in October, he updated his prediction from a tight win over Hillary Clinton in the general election to a "landslide" victory.
Why did Adams believe, against all conventional wisdom, that Trump would win? His prediction had little to do with the mood of the electorate, the weak and fractured Republican field, or the issue of immigration. Instead, argues Adams, Trump's success in the election is due almost entirely to his skill as a "master persuader." On the other hand, Adams believes that Hillary Clinton and her team are remarkably unskilled in the art of persuasion and points out that their first anti-Trump ad simply highlights Trump's anti-establishment qualities.
Trump uses what Adams calls "linguistic kill shots": colorful insults perfectly crafted to highlight a weakness that most observers already subconsciouly felt about a person but never put into words themselves. Think "low-energy" Jeb, "Lil Marco," and "Crooked Hillary." He also skillfully turns criticisms into compliments using "linguistic judo," utilizes repetition and simplicity to make ideas stick, and plants concepts in the listener's mind by picking big, visual "anchors" like "the wall" or "Rosie O'Donnell."
In other words, what appear to be random insults, erratic behavior, and bluster to most people are actually part of a carefully cultivated technique being applied by someone trained in the art of persuasion, which Adams sometimes refers to as "hypnosis." From Adams' perspective, reason and logic have little to do with decision-making. Rather, he describes human beings as "moist robots" who can be more or less reprogrammed with the right set of words.
It's a wild hypothesis that runs contrary to the conventional wisdom about how elections, and human beings, work. But then again, with Trump positioned as the Republican's presumptive nominee while Hillary Clinton still struggles to lock up the Democratic nomination against a candidate almost nobody expected to compete, note how far conventional wisdom has gotten us this election season. Maybe Adams is right that the Trump candidacy will "change how we see the world, and how we see humans." Watch Adams below, and decide for yourself.